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  • Day24

    Shetland Islands

    August 28, 2017 in the United Kingdom ⋅ 🌬 16 °C

    Scotland's most northerly domain is a bit more of an effort to visit, with the overnight journey between Kirkwall and the Shetland capital Lerwick taking just over 7 hours. After a solid sleep in our relatively spacious cabin, we collected our hire car and headed south. With only 2 days to explore we wanted to make the most of our time. I read somewhere that while Orcadians are crofters (farmers) who fish, Shetland Islanders are fisherfolk who croft. Nowhere in Shetland is more than 5km from the sea, and fishing and salmon farming are the mainstays of the economy, although revenue from the North Sea oil industry has boosted the economy in recent years.

    As we made our way south we were treated to stunning coastlines and rugged landscapes - Shetland is generally more mountainous than Orkney. Our destination was the Jarlshof historic site, which is located near the ariport. So close in fact that the road crosses the runway! What's most amazing about Jarlshof is that it contains the remains of buildings dating from 2500 BC to the 1600s AD. Evidence suggest that it was continuously occupied during that period before being abandoned. Like many of the archaeological sites we've visited, rising seas and coastal erosion has destroyed much of the site. Uncovered by storms in the late 1890s, it's been excavated on a number of occasions to expose a complex arrangement of buildings. Investigations have revealed layer upon layer of habitation, including late Neolithic houses, a Bronze Age village, an Iron Age broch and wheelhouses, a Norse longhouse, a medieval farmstead and a 16th century laird’s house.

    By now we were feeling pretty experienced when it came to these types of buildings, but we were still pretty amazed with the excellent condition of some of the structures at this site. The most impressed attribute of this site really is its complexity - in fact it was a bit overwhelming. Or perhaps it was the wind and the rain.

    Feeling that we'd "done" Jarlshof we popped into the nearby Sumburgh Hotel for a rather ordinary lunch, before making our way north to our self-catering B and B just out of Scalloway. After settling in, it was off for a spot of grocery shopping and a wander around this quiet fishing port. Prettily coloured houses line the quiet, narrow streets. We came upon a memorial to the Shetland Bus (Shetlandsbussene), a wartime resistance movement taking wireless operators, armaments and combatants into Nazi occupied Norway and returning with refugees and resistance operatives during World War II between 1941 and 1945. After Norway was invaded in 1940, as resistance was waning and an Allied response was not fast enough in coming, some 300 vessels departed Norwegian shores with refugees escaping Nazi tyranny by heading west. Some landed in parts as wide-ranging as Iceland and England, but the majority headed for the friendly shores of Shetland. It was apparent that if these small fishing vessels could escape from Norway then the same vessels could return. This was the beginning of the Shetland Bus and more than 20 vessels were chosen to begin these operations, with no shortage of volunteers to undertake the arduous journey. The most favourable conditions for entering occupied Norwegian territory were the darkest, stormiest nights, setting the weather against the small fishing vessels as much as, if not more than, the German forces.There were almost 100 missions in total from Shetland to Norway using these small fishing vessels, which incurred the loss of 10 boats and 44 men through winter weather and German surveillance. It soon became apparent that bigger faster boats would need to be found and these came in the shape of three American sub-chasers, donated to the operation by the American Navy, which undertook a further 115 missions without loss due to their greater speed, size and armament.

    Another major feature of Scalloway is its castle - it dominates the view as you come into the village. Access is by obtaining a key from the local museum, so we figured at 6.30pm we were too late. As it happens another couple turned up with the key, evidently using the castle as a backdrop for fashion photographs, so we were able to wander around. Turns out it was built by the Earl who had also built Earl's Palace in Kirkwall. He had an equally cruel reputation on Shetland as he had on Orkney.

    Heading back to our cottage we came across of group of very friendly Shetland ponies, including one with a bit of an obsession with an old tyre. There's a certain satisfaction is meeting Shetland ponies on the Shetland Islands!
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